by Jordan Helsley
reviewed on PC
Game Show Tactics Minus the Stakes
It can't be ignored: XCOM revolutionized turn-based tactics, and its influence will be felt for years to come. In many ways, each new entry in the genre must decide whether to fill the hole, or dig a new, more innovative one. Enter Showgunners, a fresh take on the genre that falls back on the familiar more than once.
Homicidal All Stars is a high stakes game show where entrants engage in life-or-death combat trials with the promise of riches. You know the type. This season you’ll embody Scarlett Martillo with the hopes of victory and fame. It's a delightfully 90s concept and presentation, complete with cell-shaded art and dingy, dystopian environments.
A turn-based tactics game is nothing without a team, and surely a cast of characters will join Scarlett's blood-soaked rampage. Showgunners trades in procedural characters for hand crafted ones. Your companions have their own stories, motivations, and personalities. It is a different type of attachment, but you're free to engage. Because of this crafting, they'll enter and exit your game as part of the story, not because of a poorly made choice or a missed 95% shot. There's a comfort in knowing a failure means a restart, but the presentation begs for something more.
A murder-based reality show demands a plethora of unique names, but we're given surprisingly few. Defenders (your enemies) are most often relegated to 'types' that strips them of unique flavour. Every Thug presents and acts the same, as does every Ronin. That’s not to say the present characters are bad, it simply feels out of step with the theme.
Reality TV, Scripted
Missed opportunities aside, the show is engaging. Your host will occasionally pop in with his corporate-mandated banter, and things won't always go as planned for you. Sometimes the deck is stacked against you for the audience's viewing pleasure, or you'll receive optional objectives, and that keeps battles from feeling stale.
The battles are solid, if familiar. Grids, two cover types, hit percentages, and action points all make appearances, among other mainstays. You and your compadres have some special abilities that were nice to see, and felt like the right direction to take a game of this type, but for every "body swap," there seemed to be a near carbon copy of "overwatch."
Life In The Streets
Between battles, Showgunners really shines. You're manoeuvring through the streets with direct control of your character, interacting with a few refreshing elements. There are secret weapons to find, weapon shops, health stations, and fans to interact with. As you interact with these sideline fans, who often don't even know the name of the rookie, you're building fame and a reputation that you choose. Is your Scarlett cocky, funny, cool? That's your choice. Just know that sponsors have their preferred personality types. Get enough fame, though, and you can start reaping the rewards of other corporate overlords who wish to use your potential victories for more money.
It's not all fun out there. To keep you from freely finding every secret the show offers, they have placed many dubious traps to catch lackadaisical explorers off guard. Some of these are passive, and some more active: requiring a mini-game to disarm. They don't present an immense challenge, just keep you paying attention as you move to the next combat encounter. And while most battles are in clearly delineated areas of engagement, you'll also fall victim to a few ambushes, so do your best to keep your health up if you want to finish the episode.
Between episodes you'll return to your living quarters: another zone that you're free to roam around and chat with your fellow contestants and find additional back story through audio logs and the like. It's a pleasant touch for a game so focused on its characters, and much less stressful than, say, trying to build and staff an efficient base.
Risking Early Cancellation
Showgunners has its fair share of new ideas, and it's best when it uses them. Moving around the world to find useful rewards adds an additional, relatively low stress, layer to a solid tactics experience. Meeting new contestants and fans, who are varied, expands the world and those that live in it. Inside combat, a lot will feel familiar to tactics veterans, but fresh elements are at least complex enough to sustain a playthrough. Forgoing procedural generation in contestants, defenders, and levels limits replayability, but it also eliminates pressure. You will never lose your favorite playable contestant for good because of a miscalculation. Their worst fate is a battle restart. Once the season is over, it's hard not to imagine the next as one with a plethora of characters who could be knocked out of competition for good, but the first season is at least good enough to leave you wanting a second.
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Well-written world and characters with solid tactical battles and an engaging overworld in the interim.
Lack of procedural generation and stakes limit replayability.